The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, has undeniably brought about significant social and economic challenges to countries worldwide. Zambia is no exception, grappling with a myriad of economic issues, from mounting local and foreign debt, totaling nearly 27 billion dollars, leading to a countrywide default in 2021.
The surge in food and essential goods prices has escalated the cost of living, compelling individuals to go to great lengths to navigate this harsh economic environment.
As a result, child exploitation has increased as children are being asked (or forced) by their parents (or guardians) to do laborious work such as travelling long distances to sell vegetables and charcoal. In researching for this article, the reporter talked to children as young as the age of 7 years old (selling vegetables) and 11 years (selling charcoal).
However, the reporter of this article also found that not all children were being forced into such activities- Reuben, a 12-year-old, expressed his willingness to assist his parents by travelling to distant places to sell vegetables. He explained that he felt it was the least he could do since his parents worked tirelessly to tend to the garden and provide for the family.
Whilst Reuben’s noble acts are worthy of praise,this doesn’t however mean that there are no physical or mental problems that arise from doing such strenuous activities.
In response to these pressing concerns, Bragi Guðbrandsson, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, commented, “By ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, your government has made a commitment to shield children from engaging in work that may jeopardise their health or development, as outlined in Article 32 of the CRC. Additionally, the work described that children may be subjected to in your country could be deemed a breach of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention, 1999 (No. 182), to which Zambia is a signatory. Article 3 of this convention defines work that harms a child’s health as one of the worst forms of child labour. This extends to include work in unhealthy environments that might expose children to hazardous substances, agents, or processes that could be detrimental to their health.”
The challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war, and economic difficulties have led to an alarming increase in child labour in Zambia. While some children willingly assist their families, it is crucial to remember that children’s rights and well-being must be protected.
It’s crucial to recognize that the root cause of child labour, as described, is poverty. Therefore, I believe that efforts against child labour should be directed towards urging the government to implement measures that eradicate child poverty, aligning with its international obligations, particularly in the fight against extreme poverty. Equally important is raising awareness among parents about the harmful consequences of child labour, emphasizing the child’s right to physical and mental health, education, culture, and play.
(Please note the names of persons interviewed have been changed)
Article by: George Kande, Mtoto News Southern Africa